When Nana Asiedu attended the Penn State football program’s annual spring game in April, he was giddy to be on campus with future teammates, coaches and fans.
Weeks later, however, that eagerness in anticipating a bright future on the gridiron turned to anguish after the recent North Stafford graduate was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a heart condition that is the leading cause of sudden death among young athletes.
Asiedu announced on Twitter Wednesday night that his football career is over. He’ll remain at Penn State on full scholarship and be a part of the football team in an undetermined capacity.
He was unavailable for comment Thursday. But he wrote on his Twitter post that “these past couple of weeks have been the toughest time in my life.”
“This hurts because football was my everything,” Asiedu wrote. “But God has other plans for me.”
Asiedu signed a national letter of intent with the Nittany Lions in December. He was rated a four-star prospect as an agile 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive tackle.
North Stafford coach Joe Mangano said Asiedu was pulled aside during the spring game for his physical before joining the Penn State program this summer. When results of the physical returned in late April, there were concerns regarding Asiedu’s heart.
Asiedu was summoned back to Pennsylvania to the Hershey Medical Center in late May so that a cardiologist could examine him further. That’s when it was determined that he suffered from HCM.
“They called me three weeks ago before they notified him and they said he could’ve died on the field,” Mangano said. “They didn’t say he definitely would’ve, but there was a very good chance he would’ve collapsed on the field. It was real.”
Penn State head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions’ medical staff boarded a private plane to visit Asiedu and his family in Stafford County to break the news. Mangano was on hand when they informed Asiedu of the diagnosis but assured him they would honor his scholarship for four years.
Mangano said that confirmed for him that Asiedu and North Stafford rising senior running back Devyn Ford each made the right decision when choosing Penn State.
“The way Franklin handled it was amazing,” Mangano said. “He was really unbelievable and sincere. The biggest thing is that he promised Nana’s parents that he was going to make sure their son graduates. Nothing has changed … They’ll talk about a role [for him] helping out coaching, recruiting or in the weight room. He’ll have the medical care at Hershey for four years, as well.”
Symptoms of HCM include chest pains, shortness of breath and heart palpitations, especially during exercise. Mangano said Asiedu was one of the best conditioned players on the team and never showed signs of those issues. He also played basketball for the Wolverines for four years.
But Asiedu did miss the 2017 season opener because of dehydration. He spent a night at Stafford Regional Medical Center to receive intravenous fluids. Mangano said he sat Asiedu out of that Aug. 24 contest against Osbourn as a precaution.
Mangano said Asiedu, who received nearly 30 scholarship offers, “had as great a potential to play in the NFL as any player I’ve ever coached,” so the news of the HCM diagnosis was discouraging.
“When they called me and told me, you kind of get numb because you feel so bad for the young man,” Mangano said. “You know it was his dream to run out in front of 110,000 and play at Penn State and obviously he had dreams of playing in the NFL. All of a sudden those dreams are dashed away and you feel for an 18-year-old that’s going through this right before graduation and right before he was going to leave. It’s tough. I still feel terrible.”
Doctors informed Asiedu’s family that his three younger siblings will need to be tested for HCM.
Ambrose Asiedu is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound rising freshman defensive end for the Wolverines. Mangano said he’s likely a future Division I prospect. Before he joins the team in August, Mangano said a more thorough physical than the typical Virginia High School League work-up, which Asiedu received, will be performed.
Former King George basketball standout De’Quan Whiting was diagnosed with HCM in 2013 and missed half of his junior season before a second opinion revealed that the scars that typically show up in a patient with HCM were absent. Whiting played his senior season at King George and went on to Bridgewater College, where he was a freshman starting guard before he passed out during a December 2015 practice and never played again.
His mother, Shaunta Lee, said Whiting wasn’t re-diagnosed with HCM, but there was “thickness” surrounding his heart.
In January, University of Florida signee Randy Russell announced his career was over after an HCM diagnosis.
Mangano said he’ll continue to look at Asiedu’s situation as “the glass is half full” and he’s thankful the condition was caught before tragedy struck.
Asiedu tweeted that he’s grateful for the support of the Penn State coaching staff.
“This is one reason why I chose Penn State because of the security and they’ll never go back on their word,” Asiedu wrote. “This is truly a curse and a blessing and I just thank God for giving me this opportunity that I will never take for granted.”